How to Distinguish Primitive, Rustic and Country Style

If you’ve spent any time on the decorating scene, then you’ve probably heard the three terms “primitive,” “rustic” and “country,” and more likely than not, you’ve heard them used interchangeably.

If you’ve spent any time on the decorating scene, then you’ve probably heard the three terms “primitive,” “rustic” and “country,” and more likely than not, you’ve heard them used interchangeably. While the three words DO have considerable overlap in meaning, they are not exactly the same. Here’s the difference between them.


Primitive is defined as:

● Being the first or earliest of its kind ● Crude, simple or unrefined

● From an early period of history ● Made by a primitive artist

In the decorating world, the definition is a bit more subtle, but retains the flavor of the formal definition. First of all, a primitive piece of furniture or décor is HANDMADE. Secondly, a person without formal training or craftsmanship made it. Third, most often, a primitive item is utilitarian in nature: furniture, dishware, tools, cooking items. And lastly, a primitive item is old – generally, old enough to qualify as an antique. It’s the combination of age, lack of pretense and practical purpose that gives a primitive item, whether furniture or some other household good, its well-worn, simple appearance, NOT intentional design. Primitive is not really a style – it’s more a description of age and production method.


Rustic is defined as:

● Rural ● Having characteristics of country people

● Made of tree roots or limbs ● Having rough, irregular surfaces

Once again, the decorating world puts a bit more of a finish on the term. In décor, something that is rustic has a tie with nature: it’s made of natural materials that are fairly raw or unrefined. A rustic piece of furniture or décor usually has a distressed or weathered finish, color that can be found in nature, a casual vibe and a sense of old-fashioned warmth or comfort. Notice what the definition of rustic does NOT include: handmade and old. While a rustic item might well be both of those things, it’s not required. In fact, a rustic piece of furniture might have been produced in a factory quite recently, but designed to look old and worn. That’s the key difference between primitive and rustic, and explains why a primitive item is by definition rustic, but a rustic item is not necessarily primitive.


Country is defined as:

● Rural ● Unfinished or unsophisticated

● From a particular country or area

In the decorating world, “country” is a broad term that describes many styles: French country, lodge, cottage, American country and coastal décor can all fall under this umbrella. What all of these styles share in common is a casual vibe, an emphasis on natural materials that are frequently in an unfinished or weathered state, natural colors and most of all, an easy, welcoming appearance that feels cozy and warm. Country style often includes rustic or primitive furnishings, but that’s not always the case. Still, the border between what qualifies as country and what qualifies as rustic is a blurred one. Rustic furniture is usually made from warm, red-toned woods, while country uses quite a bit of oak.


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